Beginner’s Guide to College Applications: Creating a Winning Resume

By Ashley McCarrick

If you’ve never created a resume before, it can be intimidating at first. The best resumes are the ones that most accurately reflect your interests, talents, and personality. You want to show the college your involvement in activities that mean something to you, not just list everything you have ever done in high school.

Step 1: Compile a list of the activities and achievements you want to include.

This may mean digging into old files and finding awards you received, volunteer hour records, and other documents. For many colleges, you will need to calculate the number of hours spent on each activity and how many weeks per year you were involved. Don’t exaggerate!

Step 2: Decide which activities you want to highlight.

Longer is not necessarily better. Be thorough, but avoid padding your resume unnecessarily. It’s more helpful to the college to include a short description of a meaningful contribution to the Environmental Club than to list every club in which you’ve ever had the slightest interest. Focus on leadership positions and areas in which you have acquired significant accomplishments. You should list your activities in the order of importance to you, unless the college specifies otherwise.

Step 3: Format the resume.

Find out if the college you are applying to has a preferred format for the resume. If not, it’s best to keep your resume brief and to the point. Use short sentences and make every word count. Don’t use acronyms for clubs or activities that are not universally known.

Step 4: Check for red flags.

Is your email address appropriate? Does your resume have misspellings, grammatical errors, or formatting issues? Is the total time spent in your activities realistic (is it really possible to spend 80 hours per week doing extracurricular activities and volunteering, plus have time to go to school and sleep)? Have a parent, mentor, or teacher review your resume for possible errors.

Once you have created a resume, you are one step closer to completing the application process and reaching your college goals!

Coming Next:
Sending Supplemental Items
Transcripts, Recommendations, and Test Scores, Oh My!

Ashley McCarrick is an Executive Director at KD College Prep. She has been serving KD students since 2007 and enjoys helping teenagers discover their dreams. In her free time, Ashley delights in spending time with her daughter, Lilley, and volunteering with various local organizations. You may contact her at


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